Choose the Proper Elements of Style for Your Presentations

The first presentation by me I’ll always remember. You would never use the passive tense to say, “I’ll always remember my first presentation.” Would you?

Yet speakers too often use passive tenses in their presentationsUse proper grammar in your presentations As Strunk and White state in their classic The Elements of Style: “Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language.”

This gem of a book has guided writers for more than 50 years. In 2011, Time Magazine listed it among The Best 100 Non-Fiction Books ever written. We urge everyone who values simple writing to read it.

Words of Wisdom

As a presenter, you want your talks to be powerful and persuade your audience to your point of view. Wishy-washy phrases and extraneous words will kill your momentum.

Blame the Internet for the degradation of language when it’s so easy to write Tx instead of Thanks. Shortcuts lead to even worse prose such as these tweets:

  • Wanna EXPLODE ur biz in 2013? Well, you’re gonna need the right tools!
  • Charlie bit my chocolate double rainbow gangam style. Twice.
  • What the what? Tweeps are boring? Say it ain’t so, Tina Fey.
  • Here’s a pic of the part of the bridge that fell. No delay will be caused.

Shortcuts in writing have become the norm on social media networks. They shouldn’t be used if you’re writing to a client, or included in a handout after a presentation.

Those of us who blog, text, post to social networks and present to live audiences can learn from the authors’ admonitions: use the active voice; omit needless words; put statements in positive form; and use definite, specific, concrete language.

How It’s Organized

The book is organized by subject. It includes these pieces of wisdom that you can apply to your presentations:

  • Elementary Rules of Usage. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s, even if the word ends in “s” – such as Charles’s. The AP doesn’t but many wordsmiths defend Strunk and White’s rule.
  • Elementary Principles of Composition. Use the active voice. “I shall always remember my first trip to Boston,” not “My first trip to Boston will always be remembered by me.”
  • A Few Matters of Form. Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation. “It was a wonderful show,” not “It was a wonderful show!”  The first edition of this book was written in 1918 before the exclamation point became ubiquitous in emails. The authors would probably swoon with displeasure over the use of :).
  • An Approach to Style. Avoid the use of qualifiers such as “Rather, very, little, pretty – these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.”

Power Words

Speakers should check for proper grammar and use power words in forcefully stating their views. As Winston Churchill said,

 “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

PR News recently published its own list of 30 problem words and phrases. Among the worst offenders that make us cringe are:

  • Due to the fact that: Replace this phrase withbecause.”
  • Basically, essentially, totally: Basically, these words are essentially nonessential, and you can totally dispense with them.
  • Oftentimes: An outdated, unnecessary complication of “often.”

Do you find yourself using these extraneous words or phrases in your presentations? Then delete them.

If you want to polish your grammar, consider buying a copy of The Elements of Style on Amazon or from antiquarian booksellers for under $10. It may be the best money you ever spent.

Are there grammatical errors that drive you crazy? Let us know what they are in the comment box below.

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